My Cat From Hell
My Cat From Hell is featured on the Animal Planet website. They are a series of videos of badly behaved cats featuring Jackson Galaxy, an animal behaviourist. He knows cats; there is no doubt about that. He knows cats because he respects the cat. Almost everything that he does is based on that premise in my opinion.
The videos that I saw show cats that have become very defensively aggressive. Relationships between people are put under stress due to the cat’s behaviour. The people are at a loss as to what to do. They call in Jackson.
One initially interesting thing about this series is the title, My Cat From Hell. That is very catchy and commercial but it is incorrect, isn’t it? From the cat’s perspective (and that is the whole idea behind the programme) it is “My Person From Hell”! The animal behaviourist is actual a person behaviorist. Almost everything that Jackson does is about modifying how the cat owner relates to their cat. Changes in behavior are changes in the behavior of the person(s). This is obvious because the cat lives in our world and responds to what we do. Their behavior is reactive not proactive.
At the outset we should all be aware that a cat lives in a land of giants. They are always looking up; up to a mountain of a companion, us. That is a bit scary from the start. We have to overcome that by being particularly gentle and unscary. I think that a lot of people with so called cat behavior problems don’t understand that. Cats like to be on perches to look down as it feels safer and cats go under furniture such as a coffee table or desk for protection from threats from above.
Declawing is a manifestation of a lack of respect for the cat and it makes the cat even more defensive. Living with giants will make cats defensive or prone to defensive behavior; add to that a lack of defenses (claws) and the cat becomes insecure. Throw in heavy handed handling, petting and reprimands for so called bad behavior (which is in fact defensive behavior) and you are in a mess of your own making.
All cat behaviour problems are in fact our problems. We cause them all one way or another. If it isn’t us the problem will be due to illness. It is that simple.
A domestic cat that doesn’t fit in might be poorly socialised. That is due to the breeder if the cat was deliberately bred. Or if the cat is feral that is caused at root by people abandoning cats. If the cat is well socialised but aggressive it is almost always due to defensive aggression if there is one cat in the household. The cat will be frightened and become defensive. If it is a multi-cat household there is the added complication of territorial rights. Cats are essentially solitary animals and the domestic cat’s range or home territory is naturally larger than the floor space of a house. Throw in two more cats and you have the potential for territorial problems and stresses. Cats adapt well but it is adapting and it isn’t entirely natural.
The key for us is to try and empathise with how the cat is feeling and to respect the cat. We should not foist ourselves on our cat as if we can do as we please with him or her. Let the cat lead. A lot of aggression from cats is caused by people trying to dictate what the cat does and should accept. The cat responds negatively. You can never force a cat to do something. Never try it. We are used to getting our way and we think we should get our way with our cat. Sorry you’ll lose that one.
Take stroking the cat or picking him up. Heavy stroking as Jackson says might upset a cat. The cat will eventually respond in a manner that upset you.
Everything should be respectful and gentle and we should understand the basic drives and needs of a cat and allow our cat to express those drives. A cat who is not allowed to express natural drives may well become stressed. That will add to the possibility that the cat will behave badly in our eyes. In fact the cat will behave in a manner that is commensurate with the circumstances under which he or she finds himself.
How to avoid cat behavior problems (PDF file)